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Spanish police break up clenbuterol ring

Enquiry suggests drug may find way into food chain, as Contador denies crit participation rumours

Four weeks ago, news that Spain’s Guardia Civil had arrested 34 people in the Canary Islands, including 13 pharmacists and nine vets, for allegedly forging prescriptions in connection with the distribution of hydrochloride clenbuterol, would barely have registered in the cycling world.

Then again, four weeks ago, few besides Alberto Contador and the UCI knew that the man who has won three of the last four editions of the Tour de France had tested positive for clenbuterol during this year’s race.

The arrests followed a police investigation codenamed Operacion Viar launched at the end of May by agents from the Servicio de Protección de la Naturaleza (Seprona), whose remit includes animal protection, and who arrested a man following the death of his horse, subsequently found to have been doped with clenbuterol, during a race in Valleseco.

Agents were able to establish which pharmacies in the Canary Islands were authorised to distribute the drug, sold under the trademark Spasmobronchal, and after visiting various premises they discovered a suspiciously large quantity of it at one address that could not be explained by its prescribed usage of treating respiratory problems in horses.

The investigation also discovered that prescriptions had been forged to try and cover up the illegal sales, and also found that clenbuterol had apparently been supplied to two farms in Gran Canaria and one in Tenerife, ostensibly to help build livestock muscle mass.

That practice is outlawed in Spain and elsewhere, and while there is no suggestion of any link between this case and the tainted meat that Alberto Contador claims he ate during the Tour de France resulting in traces of clenbuterol in his bloodstream, it does demonstrate that the substance can and does still find its way into the human food chain in Spain.

According to a report on the website of the newspaper La Opinión de Tenerife, the investigation is continuing and further arrests have not been ruled out.

Meanwhile, on mainland Spain, the Consejo Superior de Deportes (CSD), the equivalent of Britain’s UK Sport, and Spain’s state ant-doping agency, the Agencia Estatal Antidopaje (AEA) have issued a joint communiqué hitting back at criticism of the country in terms of its doping record made by UCI President Pat McQuaid.

Speaking at the World Championships in Melbourne at the start of October, soon after news of Contador’s failed drugs test broke, McQuaid said that the CSD and AEA had both told him that they recognised that Spain had a greater problem than other countries when it came to doping, words that both organizations strenuously deny.

In their statement, reported on the website Biciclismo, the CSD and AEA say: “It is categorically untrue the Spanish authorities have recognised a greater problem than exists in other countries,” pointing out that the officials who made the remarks did so in front of witnesses.

According to the statement, the CSD and AEA insists that “The main problem area when it comes to doping isn’t Spain, but some kinds of sport in which a huge amounts of effort are needed. Professional cycling is one of those, and is the responsibility of the international federation.”

The statement continues: “Accordingly, the President of the UCI would do well to devote all his energy to working to improve the situation in his sport rather than diluting his responsibility by accusing a country such as Spain, whose unwavering zero tolerance policy puts us in the front rank of the war against doping. Generally speaking, in our country the situation is no better or worse than in the rest of the world.”

Finally Contador – or rather, his press agent, Jacinto Vidarte – broke the rider’s silence to confirm that contrary to reports, he would not be taking part in an end-of-season crit next Saturday. “At no point was it in Contador’s diary to compete in the Criterium de Ovideo, nor any other race, until his current situation has been clarified,” said Vidarte, his words reported on the Marca website.

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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